Connor Bedard rookie card. First Edition Base Set Holo Charizard card. Redemptions. One-of-ones. To the common folk, these words are gibberish, but for eagle-eyed collectors, they are grails that give them an adrenaline rush. Some of these cards’ resale values go up to hundreds of dollars, some thousands, and the grails may even be enough for a mortgage or a down payment for a house.
The recent surge in popularity of collecting can be traced all the way back to 2021, when Covid-19 plagued the world and forced billions to remain in their homes. Other than hoarding masks and Covid-19 tests, the pandemic brought about a new collecting craze that involved pieces of paper.
Many started investing during the pandemic and found value in things that promised a return in the future. Stocks. NFTs. And perhaps an unexpected target—trading cards.
YouTuber Logan Paul started the Pokémon craze with his US$2 million dollar splurge on First Edition Pokémon boxes, bringing the Pokémon Trading Card Game to the influencer scene. With his video of opening the First Edition Box and chasing a Holographic Charizard, his live streams netted millions of viewers and created a following for opening vintage boxes to obtain hit cards of different sets.
Hit cards are the featured cards of a set, usually with a higher rarity, and are more valuable than the other cards in each set. The same craze persists to this day, with people making a living “breaking” boxes live, and customers buying spots off the stream. “Breaking is so popular now as it is a much more affordable way for people to get into collecting when you split the cost of a box among a few other people. It’s also a lot of fun watching people open packs live with a community,” says Rey Revereza, co-owner of Dolly’s Sports Cards, a sports card store in Downtown Toronto.
The University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM) is home to almost 15,000 students and 69,000 alumni. And among them are collectors, many of whom collect trading cards.
“I’ve been collecting trading cards since I was in middle school. My best friend Daanish also collects, and we would sometimes gift each other cards,” explains Omar Khan, the Sports & Health editor at The Medium and a final-year communication, culture, information & technology student at UTM, when asked about how he started collecting.
“My favorite team is the Toronto Maple Leafs and all I care about is getting a Matthews, Marner, or Nylander card when getting hockey cards. I’d get weird looks at Tim Hortons whenever I get the Tim Hortons $2 cards. I still remember getting a pack of Leafs exclusive cards from the dollar store when I started,” Khan continues as he recounts his story of how he started collecting.
Such stories echo among collectors, with their first collections often starting during their childhood. Revereza explains in detail how he got into collecting sports cards: “I was first introduced to sports cards in 1990 when I was eight years old. My mom bought me my first box of 1990-91 Upper Deck Hockey cards for Christmas. I was instantly hooked. I hung around the local card shops in my area and that’s how I was first exposed to the industry at a very young age watching people buy, sell, and trade cards.”
With the vast base of customers crossing multiple generations, many chose to start a career in trading cards. Combined with the immense growth in collection popularity during the Covid-19 pandemic, it was a no-brainer for collectors investing in trading card businesses. The Research Industry Network conducted a report on the sports trading card market to determine the size of the industry, as well as breaking the market down by company. The market size was valued at US$635.26 million in 2022 and will reach US$767.86 million in 2028, with a growth rate of 3.21 per cent between 2022 and 2028.
“The pandemic boom did a lot for the industry. Everyone had more time in lockdown. There were no live sports at the time of the pandemic, so a lot of people who were into sports betting got into sports cards and collectibles and sports breaks to get their desired fix at the time. This brought the demand to an all-time high for cards,” Revereza explains. “The pandemic brought back the collectors like me, who started at eight or nine years old and are in their late 30s during the pandemic to share the same passion with our own kids. It created a strong bond between father and child collectors.” All three children from the Revereza family developed the same love for collecting with their dad during the pandemic.
Khan’s story resonates with Revereza’s. “My dad also collected sports cards as a kid. One grail I’ve seen from his collection was a Wayne Gretzky card. That was a pretty rare card.” Meanwhile, Khan recollects his memories of his dad collecting. “My dad wasn’t an avid card collector, but I still remember his grail card to this day.”
This cross-generational hobby not only became an interest shared among family members but also fostered a community outside of the house. Collectors from around the world gather at huge events such as the Sports Cards Expo held in Toronto as well as the many Collect-A-Con events hosted throughout the US. Walk into one of these massive expos and you will find collectors of all ages and backgrounds rubbing shoulders and fawning over some shiny paper.
“I love seeing connections between people from all walks of life who get together and share collections and help each other build collections. It’s created a whole new community of people getting together. Especially at the trade shows and local shows. It helped propel the hobby,” Revereza smiles as he talks about the recent Sports Cards Expo held in November 2023. The next Sports Card Expo will run in April 2024.
Even though the most sought-after cards may go for an arm and a limb, starting a collection doesn’t have to break the bank. Both Revereza and Khan have advice for those who are looking to start opening their first packs of trading cards. “Don’t try to get something too specific. You can easily blow way too much money on packs trying to get a specific player, so it’s definitely something to watch how much you spend on it,” Khan states.
“Set yourself a goal and a budget. Whether it’s collecting a certain set, a certain player you like or a specific position or anything that signifies nostalgia like someone from the same hometown as you. Always set a goal. Don’t go into it blind collecting without a goal as it can get very overwhelming and expensive,” Revereza explains as he talks about what new collectors should do when starting their collections. “Keep the mentality that this is a hobby first before anything else. And that it isn’t buyers and sellers that progress the hobby. It’s the collectors that do!”
Whether you are collecting to invest for future gain, to pass it along to your kids, or if you just like the players and characters on the cards, the hobby of collecting has been here for generations and will be here for more to come. So, what are you still waiting for? It’s time to hit your local game stores to crack open some fresh packs! You might even hit something big!
Features Editor (Volume 50) — Louis graduated from UTM with a Bachelor of Science double majoring in Psychology and Professional Writing and Communication. He is currently in the field of UX/UI design, conducting research on how to improve user experience in apps and websites, designing websites for companies that are looking to branch online. As the Features Editor for Volume 50, Louis wants to bring the experience of reading enjoyable and informative for everyone. He hopes to showcase student voices and empower them through editing. When Louis is not at his computer designing websites or writing, he is opening Pokémon card packs chasing the Charizard or at the gym training his mind and body.